Evolutionary arguments against moral realism: Why the empirical details matter (and which ones do)

Jeroen Hopster

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6 Citations (Scopus)
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The aim of this article is to identify the strongest evolutionary debunking argument (EDA) against moral realism and to assess on which empirical assumptions it relies. In the recent metaethical literature, several authors have de-emphasized the evolutionary component of EDAs against moral realism: presumably, the success or failure of these arguments is largely orthogonal to empirical issues. I argue that this claim is mistaken. First, I point out that Sharon Street’s and Michael Ruse’s EDAs both involve substantive claims about the evolution of our moral judgments. Next, I argue that combining their respective evolutionary claims can help debunkers to make the best empirical case against moral realism. Some realists have argued that the very attempt to explain the contents of our endorsed moral judgments in evolutionary terms is misguided, and have sought to escape EDAs by denying their evolutionary premise. But realists who pursue this reply can still be challenged on empirical grounds: debunkers may argue that the best, scientifically informed historical explanations of our moral endorsements do not involve an appeal to mind-independent truths. I conclude, therefore, that the empirical considerations relevant for the strongest empirically driven argument against moral realism go beyond the strictly evolutionary realm; debunkers are best advised to draw upon other sources of genealogical knowledge as well.
Original languageEnglish
Article number41
JournalBiology and philosophy
Issue number5-6
Publication statusPublished - Dec 2018


  • Metaethics
  • Evolutionary debunking
  • Moral realism
  • Darwinian Dilemma
  • Reliability challenge
  • Evolutionary contingency
  • Historical debunking


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